COTTON LAMENTATIONS

There are two considerable stretches of original forest remaining in Dutch Fork, to indicate what was the natural appearance of the country in the far past. One of these is the tract of one hundred acres of superb oak-land that surrounds St. John's church, and belongs to it; the other contains about fifteen acres of heavily timbered land, and lies in front of the Pomaria residence, at a distance of three hundred yards from it. There are many other small remnants of primitive woods scattered about, but they are not sufficiently extensive to aid the fancy in picturing the "boundless contiguity of shade" that once extended so widely over this fair region. When the white people, following John Adam Summer, came into these wilds, they found that the Indians had made a few small clearings, and had been cultivating them rudely for the production of a large kind of grain, since a time to which their memory did not reach. Botanists have given to this grain the name, Zea Maize, but in common language, it is called Indian Corn, from the fact that it was first found among these Indians. They, however, must have used it very sparingly, in the form of hominy (an Indian name, according to Webster), or by simply parching the grains, since their little fields probably did not yield all together more than three hundred bushels. It is easy to infer that the white settlers, accustomed, as they were, to eat bread with their meat, and soon discontented with jerked beef and venison dried in the sun or smoked in the chimney jamb, speedily brought into tillage much larger fields, which under the plough-share yielded prodigious crops of this new grain, as well as of wheat, rye, and barley; so that it was not long before the face of the country beamed with the smiles of civilization.

When we walk through such memorial remnants of woodland as I have mentioned we sigh over the destruction of the forests,—the desolations which the natural strength of the soil has so beautifully struggled to repair by means of the oldfield pine; and we say within ourselves: The oaks have been needlessly wasted! The tilling of the ground to supply man with necessary bread would not require the yeomanry of the Dutch Fork, nor of any other section of country, to destroy the vast areas of original growth which we see to-day abandoned to the broomsedge, wherever nature has failed to reforest the waste places with the old-field pine. Nor would there have been a necessity for any prodigal clearing of land even by the introduction of cotton, so long as the young people for pastime separated from the seed, with their fingers and thumbs, sufficient lint to aid the flax and the wool in supplying raiment for the families; but when the cotton-gin was patented in 1793 by Eli Whitney, and gin-houses and screws were erected allover the land to supply the world with what had suddenly become a great staple,—then, and not til then, did the murderous attack upon the glorious forests begin.

Before cotton came into use in the Dutch Fork, flax and wool were the materials from which ordinary clothing was obtained, and altogether by domestic manufacture. The cloth woven upon the simple primitive loom was wonderfully durable.... More then four hundred years ago a few nights’ exposure to dampness and to the heat of the sun for as many days removed the flax-stalks in a rotten pulp from a quantity of fibre which was woven into a fabric that received from the brush of Raphael the painting of the Transfiguration, has kept it fresh to the present day, and will last to keep it for four hundreds years longer. The same can be said in regard to hundreds of other master-pieces of painting. Strange! That a stuff of such little durability as cotton should ever threaten to become a substitute for linen, --cotton, the very symbol of rottenness and decay, while linen is the symbolic immortal material for the marriage dress of the Lamb’s Bride, --to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white. (Mayer 1982, 61-62, 68-69)